During my research for Queen of the Darkest Hour, I encountered Osulf, a pupil of the scholar Alcuin and part of Prince Karl’s retinue. (Karl, also called Charles the Younger, stood to inherit the bulk of Charlemagne’s empire but preceded his father in death.)
The poet and courtier Theodulf alludes to Karl and Osulf in a parody of Virgil’s Second Eclogue, about the shepherd Corydon and his love for the boy Alexis. What is a novelist to do?
My answer: whatever works for the story. The parody is one poem by someone who saw Alcuin as a rival and likely saw a vulnerability in Osulf. Not many people know about the poem, and it doesn’t prove anything. For my tale, I needed Karl to be interested in women. So here is how I handled the matter, as my heroine, Queen Fastrada, worries about her stepsons’ intentions with the daughter of count:
Karl was a different story. Courtiers had complained he was too close to a British Saxon man in his retinue, one of Alcuin’s pupils, and she had felt relieved when his guards told her they had seen him with a harlot from time to time. “He hasn’t threatened a noblewoman’s chastity,” she said. “How was he with Richilde during the hunt?”
If another novelist were to portray Karl and Osulf as lovers, I wouldn’t argue with the choice. This type of work is called fiction for a reason, and it allows plenty of room for speculation.
For more about Karl and Osulf (and Alcuin and Theodulf), see my post on English Historical Fiction Authors.